Guest Column: Congress must act on Child Nutrition Bill
By H. Dennis Smith
President & CEO
Northern Illinois Food Bank
Around the country, children are enjoying the remaining days of freedom before school starts. But for millions of children, back-to-school means more than a return to homework. It means a return to food. Low-income families that rely on school meal programs to nourish their children struggle to feed their families during the summer months. Some of these children are able to access meals at summer feeding programs, but the vast majority—almost 90 percent—cannot. In Illinois, only 6.8 percent of kids who get lunch assistance during the school year participate in a summer food program on a typical summer day.
A new report by Feeding America about the prevalence of child hunger confirms what Northern Illinois Food Bank knows firsthand: the number of children facing hunger grew significantly as the economy worsened and unemployment reached record high levels. Nearly 16.2 percent of children in Illinois are at risk of hunger, underscoring the importance of the Child Nutrition Bill before Congress. In Winnebago County, 19.9 percent of children are living in poverty.
It’s important to remember that for many vulnerable children, back-to-school also means back to the promise of daily, nutritious meals. School meal programs often provide the healthiest and most nourishing meal a child receives all day. For some children, the program provides their only meal period. It is vitally important that we not only improve the nutritional quality of the food being served to our children, but also expand program access through a strong Child Nutrition Bill.
Unfortunately, we risk missing a critical opportunity to make progress against child hunger if Congress does not act on the Child Nutrition Bill before it expires Sept. 30. The Senate has already approved the bill, but at the expense of shifting SNAP (i.e. Food Stamps) funds to pay for the program. On behalf of Northern Illinois Food Bank and the children and families served by our network, I urge our congressional leaders to make child nutrition legislation a top priority and pass a bill that ensures access to healthy and nutritious food for all of America’s children, but does not take funds from the most important federal nutrition program—SNAP.
H. Dennis Smith is president & CEO of Northern Illinois Food Bank.
From the Aug. 11-17, 2010 issue
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